I'm not so sure that it's not. The reason why I think that the behavior at the elite end of the scale IS relevant to the rest of higher ed is the phenomenon that has been driven by the crazy coming from the top end.

So spending on sports facilities might not be a common thing at Ivies (and it often IS now at SPF's {selective public flagships}), but spending to make college a spa-like atmosphere certainly is a pervasive (and toxically $$$) phenomenon throughout higher ed now. It's rooted in that same competition-minded atmosphere, it's just the flip side of things, aimed at making a campus more desirable, thus more selective when they can reject an ever-higher % of applicants (most of whom are people that have little business applying there to begin with). OF COURSE the message has to be that attending somewhere other than Super Elite College is a massive failure... because only those who are worthy enough get in to Super Elite College... and look, we know that this is so because so few of them flunk out once they are there... and so many of them are SO successful once they graduate... so really, the ONLY way to be one of those successful people is to do whatever it takes to get into Super Elite College.

I was so sad when even UChi, which had resisted this poison, finally caved and started down the path of the marketing blitzkrieg to drive applicant numbers.

Marketing, in other words-- which is resulting the precise craziness that the author notes in all its varied glories.

That pressure for more "effective branding" and "better reach" among prospective students translates into all manner of malfeasance in the sector, and to a less extreme extent, it goes now for ALL of higher ed-- everything from cheating on the AP exams, superscoring a dozen achievement tests, lying about extracurriculars, to shenanigans at admissions offices is part and parcel of this phenomenon.

Most reasonably bright students who have done reasonably well at school, have a few outside interests, and no problems testing? Are GOING to get into colleges that are completely well-suited to them in terms of their needs. But that is getting completely lost in the buzzing noise surrounding crap like USN&WR's "selective 100" and the like.

Life isn't a disaster if you don't go to an Ivy, or for that matter, a SLAC. In fact, in some ways (not all ways, of course) those schools are not appreciably "better" than their less selective and lower-cost alternatives. The costs (direct, indirect, and opportunity) for getting INTO and attending an Ivy/SPF/SLAC may well outweigh the benefits. That aspect of things does get lost in this kind of conversation-- and I think it is an important omission that the author makes, there. He hints at it, of course, with his Dayton remark, or the one about service not requiring a passport. But being part and parcel of that elite system himself, he can't really understand those opportunity costs. Families are willing to absolutely bankrupt themselves getting their kids into those places-- and paying for them. They're willing to mortgage those kids' futures for decades in the name of student debt to accomplish it. All because of what they've been told is true about some vast difference between the "right" institutions versus all of the (apparently) great, unwashed rest of them. sick

That is where it becomes about ALL colleges, not just the Ivies. Now, the elite colleges have created that gulf in perceptions, but the rest of the higher ed sector is certainly dancing to the same tune, ever more frantic to put their own institutions to the correct side of some line that confers absolution from "mediocrity" or worse.

I'm not part of the elite system. I don't know-- maybe my education was deficient and I just don't know. Perhaps. But when I've compared (careful) notes with those who have attended elite institutions, they eventually wrinkle their brows and have to admit that contrary to every expectation, my undergraduate education seems to have been just as fine as that obtained at a SLAC. I learned many of the same things, I spent my time engaged in meaningful discourse and social interactions with other smart people, etc. Just at a fraction of the cost-- and without the prestige of their diploma's seal, of course. I didn't seem to have any trouble keeping up with them professionally, or while I was a graduate student. I can't say for certain, obviously, but I don't think that my life has been HARMED in any way by virtue of not attending a more elite institution. I was certainly accepted to a few, but decided that the costs were too high to justify them. I've not seen any reason to revise that opinion in the past 30 years.

There really IS some truth to the notion that what you get out of your college experience is highly dependent upon YOU, as a student, and not as much upon the institution itself. That is more true than many parents or students (or the institutions themselves) might believe. So I would not necessarily answer "probably" to a DYS-level student getting a "better" education at an Ivy. I'd answer "perhaps" or "possibly."

If the real difference IS the students admitted (and it is), then ask yourself this: What kinds of students are Ivies selecting for NOW, compared with thirty years ago? There have been changes, all right. Those changes have been pressure to select for higher SES, and for more Tiger-parented, anything-goes-as-long-as-it-gets-the-prize antics. A stunning number of such students no longer believe that taking prescription stimulants or cheating are actually, you know, wrong if they are done in the pursuit of a personal goal. The elite colleges are selecting for those students. If college admissions were a beauty pageant, the Ivies would be selecting those who are willing to do plastic surgery to whatever extent necessary, and maybe more than that in terms of icky behavior. They don't see it that way, of course.

Schrödinger's cat walks into a bar. And doesn't.